A brief to defend children's rights
Barbara Lantin reports on a campaigning legal centre in Islington that provides expert advice in a confusing field
Wednesday 29 March 1995
The Children's Legal Centre was the chief British project to emerge from the 1979 International Year of the Child. Established in 1981, it can claim credit for legislative changes as well as shifts in opinion in its 14-year history.
A number of clauses in the Children Act 1989, which came into force in 1991, owe their existence to the lobbying and research work of the centre. Apart from lobbying, the main thrust of its work is focused on its telephone advice line, used chiefly by professionals and other adults acting on behalf of young people, and its monthly magazine, a bulletin of law and policy affecting children and young people.
"We exist to promote children's rights, and the way we do this is based on our legal expertise, which is what makes us different from other children's organisations," explains the co-ordinator Nicola Wyld, a solicitor and member of the Law Society's Family Law Committee. "All the work we do has a very clear legal emphasis and we will advise in any area where youthfulness is relevant in law."
The advice line is open five afternoons a week and staffed by employees of the centre and volunteers, all of whom have legal training. It takes about 250 calls a month. A third of these calls come from professionals, just under two-thirds from relatives and friends, and 5 per cent from youngsters, mainly teenagers.
Education - particularly special needs and exclusions from school - is the biggest single issue, accounting for 30 per cent of the calls. This is followed by issues relating to the Children Act (20 per cent) and sexual and physical abuse (11 per cent).
Maureen O'Hara, an advice co-ordinator, says the centre sees itself as a complement rather than an alternative to the legal profession. "Not everybody who calls has access to legal advice, but quite a lot are represented by solicitors. It is not that they are checking up on what their solicitor has said, but that they want more detail, more background information.
"We find that solicitors do not always have the time or inclination to explain why they are doing or not doing something. For example, parents are often unclear about the rules involving the giving of evidence by children in criminal cases and what the implications of the video link are. Or they may not understand the nature or process behind cross-examination of children.
"We can take time to explain the precise meaning of phrases like `the welfare of the child' or the concept of parental responsibility. Parents may not realise that the legal position is not cut and dried but hazy. I must admit that sometimes quite inadequate information is given by the various agencies involved - not just solicitors."
Some callers are clearly unhappy with their legal representatives. "They feel the solicitor is not fighting their case vigorously enough, or not explaining his or her actions sufficiently. We ask if they have tried to raise these concerns with the solicitor. If they have and there seems no way forward, we ask if they have considered a change."
The centre does not recommend particular firms, but can supply lists of specialist lawyers - members of the Childcare Panel of the Law Society, for example. When lawyers call the centre, it is often in search of a precedent in the field of child law. The subject of access to the social services files of adult clients who were in care as children has prompted a number of recent inquiries.
Another issue causing concern is the anxiety of divorcing women that if they make an accusation of violence or abuse against the father of their children this will be construed as malicious or hysterical by the courts. There are also signs that some recent court orders have resulted in inadequate supervision of the contact between a father accused of abuse and his children. On matters like these, there is a steady demand from the profession for the centre'sexpertise. Its publications and monthly journal, Childright, have also proved useful resources for solicitors.
As well as guides to various aspects of the law - on child support and child sexual abuse, for example - the centre produced the lobby document "Children or Refugees?", which looked at the position of unaccompanied child refugees. It also helped to develop the NSPCC's Child Witness Pack, for parents and children. Childright closely monitors legal and political developments affecting young people.
Policy work is largely shaped by the grassroots information that comes from the advice line, though lobbying and casework have been constrained recently by lack of resources. Funds come from the Department of Health, charitable trusts, the London Boroughs Grants Unit and sales of Childright. But more money is desperately needed.
"We would like to set up a freephone advice service for children and young people and do some outreach work in schools and youth clubs to promote and support it," says Nicola Wyld. "We would also like to provide more advocacy work for young people, particularly in the field of education. Children in schools don't seem to have rights. They are pupils who have things done to them. It is the parents who are the consumers. The situation is similar in the field of mental health and other medical treatment.
"There are so many potential issues we would like to tackle. In theory, we don't limit ourselves. But in practice it comes down to resources."
For further information contact the Children's Legal Centre, 20 Compton Terrace, London N1 2UN; telephone 0171-359 9392. Its advice line is open from Monday-Friday, 2pm-5pm, on 0171-359 6251.
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
- 1 Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
- 2 The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
- 3 Danish TV reporter is all business up top, all party down below
- 4 Ross Burden dead: MasterChef and Ready Steady Cook star, dies aged 45
- 5 Businessman charged £75 for three small bottles of water in London hotel
The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace
iJobs Money & Business
Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)
£350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...
£500 - £560 per day: Orgtel: Java Developer FX - Banking - London - Up to £560...
£350 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...
£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Account Manager - (Produc...
Day In a Page
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony
A charming four-bedroom Oxfordshire cottage with oak floors and chunky-beamed ceilings, £465,000
A beautiful one-bed flat in a sought-after portered block, with access to Norland Square communal gardens
A one-bedroom flat within a Sixties school conversion with high-spec design and open-plan kitchen, close to Lambeth North Tube, £435,000
A 17th century four-bedroom house, with open fireplaces, cellar and pool, £600,000